An African summer is a time of celebration and enjoyment in the countryside and in the garden.
December is a wonderful time of year to appreciate our floral heritage. Curly, pink-spotted-maroon flowers of the Cape chestnut (Calodendrum capense) and the starry pink flower clusters of the pom-pom tree (Dais cotinifolia) dot the landscape; on mountain slopes the tree-like sugarbush (Protea caffra) flowers in summer rainfall areas, and grasslands are home to pink crinums, yellow orchids, mauve fairy bells (dieramas) and purple watsonias.
Polygala, eucomis with their curious pineapple ‘topknots’, and leonotis colour hillsides purple, green and orange, and agapanthus in shades of blue and white, and the Berg lily, Galtonia candicans with white pendant bells, grow on ledges and inclines. In damp places, scarlet Schizostylis coccinea, pale blue wahlenbergia, orange and yellow kniphofia, and magenta wild tibouchina (Dissotis canescens) flower.
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy indigenous flowers in our gardens, and to welcome the birds, butterflies and bees they attract. Gazania, Bauhinia galpinii and Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) provide a blaze of orange, cooled off by the gentle blues of agapanthus, plumbago and felicia. Pink indigofera and anisodontea, and the violet flowers of Tinnia barbata make a pretty background to a mixed border.
There is a simple elegance and peacefulness in a garden designed to be at its best in the evening, where white and cream flowers take on an iridescent beauty. The dainty white sprays of the tree orchid Mystacidium capense, the cream trumpets of the honeybell bush (Freylinia lanceolata), and Gardenia thunbergii scent the air.
White blooms of arum, agapanthus, galtonia and plumbago show up well, as do Xylotheca kraussiana, a coastal shrub, known as the African dog rose because of its open white flowers and yellow stamens, Bauhinia natalensis with white bell-like flowers, and the silver leaves and clusters of dainty white flowers of Gomphostigma virgatum.
Grow stunning summer flowering arums with names of ‘Black Jack’, ‘Majestic Red’, ‘Purple Heart’, ‘Aurora’ and ‘Hot Chocolate’ in containers on the patio. Eucomis and its cultivars, with their pineapple tuft of leaves, and in subtle shades of green, pink and purple, are sure to be a talking point.
Evergreen agapanthus, with dark green, strap-like foliage, makes attractive container subjects even when not in flower. Asparagus meyerii (cat’s tail) makes an attractive pot plant, as does Asparagus sprengerii, with fine leaves and a trailing habit.
Both ivy leaf and zonale pelargoniums are suitable for pots and hanging baskets, and don’t forget scented pelargoniums, with leaves that smell of rose, citrus, nutmeg or peppermint.
Why not make a yellowwood tree your choice for Christmas this year? Broad-leaved Podocarpus latifolius, Henkel’s Yellowwood (Podocarpus henkelii), and small-leaved yellowwood (P. falcatus) are all suitable for planting in containers. The tree can be kept in the container for a few years if planted in a large pot and the soil kept moist.
Other suitable plants are Gardenia thunbergia with rigid branches and glossy green leaves, and silver-grey leafed Olea europaea subsp. africana (wild olive). For something more modern, the dry stems of aloes make an unusual Christmas decoration and can be left natural or painted and anchored in a container of sand to keep them upright. Continue the indigenous theme by decorating the tree with indigenous seedpods and African beadwork.